Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Response to Jamie Oliver: Self Appointed Govt Poverty Porn Tsar

Many people living on the austerity frontline were today waking up, not only to another day of wondering what they can put on their table to feed their family, but to some amazing "observations" made by Oliver about how the poor live their lives and the fact (in his view) there is no poverty in the UK.

I could almost hear the coalition cheering.  Jamie Oliver is worth an estimated £150 million. He flits from country to country advising people to live their lives on his recipes for his TV shows and books. A quick "pucker" grin at the locals and just as Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects "and like that he was gone..."

Today he has appointed himself the Governments new Poverty Porn Tsar. He bemoans poor families by stereo-typing them as "'You might remember that scene in Ministry Of Food, with the mum and the kid eating chips and cheese out of Styrofoam containers, and behind them is a massive TV. It just didn’t weigh up.' Apparently the multi millionaire also has his own stats on poor families "The fascinating thing for me is that seven times out of 10, the poorest families in this country choose the most expensive way to hydrate and feed their families. The ready meals, the convenience foods.'

And there we have it in a nutshell. A millionaire flitting into the lives of the poor and having a huge opinion, while he then sits pretty raking in the deals from TV and books and his restaurant. Mr Oliver, like the Government seems to be obsessed with "massive TV's". Woe betide the worker who has to step into Curries to buy a new TV then. He is faced with a choice of flat screen or plasma TVs and most over 30 inches in diameter. If he then loses his job he is "saddled" with his large TV. Does Mr Oliver think he should then return it to the shop? Of course not! I know the above sounds ridiculous but no more ridiculous than Oliver's stereo-typical slant on poor people. Hence why he comes across as a Poverty Porn Tsar.

He goes on to say poor people should shop at local markets whereby "you can just grab 10 mange tout for dinner and don't waste a thing". Hmmm there are 2 points to be made here. With the arrival of huge supermarkets many areas do not have a local market for starters. In my case I am fortunate to have one, but couldn't see me grabbing 10 mange tout and feeding a family of 2 adults and 4 strapping lads aged 14-24!

People in Jamie Oliver's position could do so much good if they actually a) thought about it thoroughly and b) understood the root causes of poverty. In my article on food banks I raised the problem that when our local food bank volunteers turn up with a food parcel at people's doorsteps, in some cases people do not have a proper cooker or microwave even. If they do have a cooker, many have come from a deprived background and may not have had the family life where mum or dad passed down cookery lessons. While Jamie Oliver as a professional chef may stand in his multi thousand pound kitchen showing his kids how to cook, there are thousands of young adults who did not have the privilege of having this kind of loving family environment. Many young people coming out of care, have not been shown cookery skills either. From my own viewpoint with a few sons having done GCSE Home Economics in school, too much time is wasted on the theory of cooking and not enough time on cooking practical family meals on a budget. Indeed I have said schools could benefit from mums and dads coming in to show young teenagers how to cook tasty meals without the big budget costs. Many of Mr Oliver's own recipes have quite fancy ingredients that cost a fair bit: he was criticised for his £26 hardback 30 minute recipe book for containing expensive ingredients that  on average cost £20 per meal  for 4 people and took an hour to cook not 30 minutes!

I would say to Mr Oliver: It is offensive to criticise poor families in these times of austerity when you  have £150 million in the bank. It is also extremely patronising to tell poor families where they should be buying food in your millionaires opinion. Forget the local market, many people are relying on food banks to feed their families and food that is filling but may not be as nutritional as they would wish. When you are staring down the barrel of poverty, having had a benefit sanctioned, lost your job, become ill or disabled, wondering whether to pay the Bedroom Tax, heat or eat: only then can you offer an opinion on feeding a family on a budget.

Chips n Cheese or 10 Mange Tout..  I know what I would prefer.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Are Labour MPs listening to the People on Austerity Frontline?

I would never be so naive to think that the majority of  Tory MPs for one minute would even begin to understand what life is like on the frontline of austerity. But perhaps I estimated some Labour MPs too highly also. After all the very type of job that an MP does gives them a salary of over £60k a year, which to most people would mean a comfortable lifestyle. To people receiving social security an MP is significantly well off.

I have nothing but admiration and respect when I see Labour MPs like Grahame Morris, Ian Mearns and Ian Lavery, week in, week out, meet with constituents , discuss their problems, engage with Labour voters on twitter and never ever take for granted their representation of all people in their constituencies. But for other MPs perhaps a time out of the Westminster bubble would open their eyes to what front line austerity actually is.

I reprimanded Tom Harris MP  on twitter when he said in his article on Labour List:"Many on the Left of our party want a different approach to the Work and Pensions brief. They want someone who will hint at increasing, not decreasing the welfare bill, who will defend the right of claimants to turn down paid employment without any hint of sanctions, and who will unequivocally oppose every one of IDS’s reforms."

I cannot speak for MPs or "The Party" but I speak for many Left  leaning voters who categorically DO NOT want a new DWP Shadow Minister doing any of the above at all! I told Mr Harris that this is not the case among left leaning voters. We want practical help from the DWP for all unemployed people, to actually find a job that is Full Time in hours and pays a Living Wage so people can support their families and have job security, pay down a mortgage or rent, buy a piece of furniture not on credit.In turn we would also like new affordable social housing built: not on huge estates that can become ghettoes of the future but perhaps a combination of social and private housing with a mixture of tenants both in work and out of work, both able bodied and disabled, both young and old.

I would also point out that the ordinary Labour voter would not want a DWP Secretary to have lists of sanctions at the ready for tiny misdemeanours such as being 5 minutes late for an appointment at the Job Centre. But through my own son's experience who was seasonally unemployed last winter as a young single man, living at home, could you define why you would sanction my son for turning down the following "job".

He was offered a caravan cleaning job, 20 miles away for 6 hours per week on a Saturday. His train fare to the job (which is the only means of getting there on the N Wales coast) was £12 return. I told him to turn down this "job" Mr Harris, as it is not a job at all in my book! Jobseekers like my son are not being given options of  Full Time or even good Part Time Jobs in most cases. In my sons case 6 hours per week is not even part time. Yet supposedly you would recommend a DWP Secretary sanction my son for not taking it? Thankfully with no help from the Job Centre he found a full time job, albeit from an agency on a zero hours contract, but options are few on the ground currently.

As to "opposing every one of IDS' reforms" again although many on the Left vehemently loathe the man and his rhetoric, is it right to assume we ordinary people want a DWP Shadow Secretary who would oppose reform of our Social Security System? No! There are many like myself who understand the myriad of benefits under the Social Security system needs a complete overhaul. Universal Credit for example, if it incorporated fair ways of payment to recipients, included even more benefits like Carers Allowance and Council Tax Benefit, had an IT system fit for purpose, and operated by giving dignity and respect to those who need to claim, then by all means go ahead with it! Universal Credit if operated correctly as I have stated would be a relief to people who have to fill in reams of individual forms to claim Housing Benefit, Tax Credits, JSA etc. To have one form would be ideal and welcome to most ordinary people.

So I would say to Tom Harris MP or other Labour MPs who think voters of the Left want increased Social Security Bills, and rights to turn down work etc - We don't at all! We just require a Shadow DWP Secretary who will defend the right to a proper contract of work between employer and employee that does not include zero hours unless asked for, a job whose hours can provide a decent Living Wage and a decent standard of social housing where the Bedroom Tax is consigned to the wastebin, and a social security system that is easy to access in times of need and provides practical caring help to all claimants.

Now that doesn't sound too much to ask either from Liam Byrne or whomever his successor maybe in a reshuffle. Even Tom Harris may agree with me perhaps?

Friday, 23 August 2013

Is verbally attacking disabled children and families the new sport?

After having a few years of seeing disabled people, clearly unable to work,being vilified in the press and by ATOS on a daily basis, many people on twitter and social media have hung their heads in despair and many campaigners like Sue Marsh have fought back with every ounce of their being to even project a more balanced view of the obstacles disabled people face in Cameron's "disability-hate" UK.

Recently and more sinisterly (if verbally berating disabled people could get more sinister) a new trend is emerging. It has reared it's ugly Medusa-type head firstly in the form of " The Apprentice Failure" Ms Hopkins, and today with the BBC of all organisations - blaming parents for their children's disabilities. This is an all time new low. Ms Hopkins is a so called "social commentator" and after reading her bio she seems to have no medical training or expertise. The BBC is owned by us- it has a duty to represent news items with no bias, or so you would think.

Ms Hopkins has said "Marvellous. It is Learning Difficulties week. Is there an Academic Excellence week. This country is a liberal left leaning minefield of pc." She has also said,"A medical condition is a badge, absolving the wearer of any responsibility to deal with a problem, requiring in its place sympathy, compassion and support from the state" She also refers to ADHD and Asperger's syndrome (autism) as "new conditions".

Whilst Ms Hopkins can be excused her ignorance and be dismissed as yet another reality TV non entity spouting off for the fun of it, she sets a dangerous precedent. Ms Hopkins has followers on twitter and social media. While she deliberately pours forth controversial opinions to promote herself, she is not mindful of either the people who follow her who may then take this opinion out onto the street in increasing disability hate crimes, or aware of the wider propaganda that disabled children and their parents face in the battle to be accepted in a society that is shunning them more and more.

To many parents surprise BBC Breakfast ran an item today on Anxiety Disorders in Children. It became increasingly alarming that the blame was being pushed onto parents. The resident GP made no attempt to link many anxiety disorders in children to bigger disabilities. Many children for example suffer autism alongside an anxiety disorder, yet the blame was being put fair and square at the feet of parents.

For this type of propaganda to now gain favour in mainstream television is a huge concern. Disabled children, like Disabled  Adults already battle common discriminations on a daily basis. Disability hate crime is rising daily as is Disability Hate Speech: Ms Hopkins being a huge contributor.

Is verbally attacking parents of disabled children the new sport? I want no part in a society that thinks it is ok to condone this. Standards have dropped so low, some people are unable to actually see the depths to which society has fallen to, in our race to vilify the disabled : for what crime exactly?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Kicking Welfare out of Social Security...

Liam Byrne mentioned "Social Security" no less than 12 times in his speech on the same subject today. It's something many Labour supporters and campaigners have been shouting from the rooftops for the past 2.5 years! In previous years the Labour Party have unashamedly marched right into Tory rhetoric by using the same language as the out of touch aristos of society they represent.

Labour have used "Welfare, Shirker, Skiver, Scrounger" as easily as the PM seems to go on holiday! And the most hated phrase "hard working families" trips off the tongue of Labour Shadow Ministers like ice cream for a sore throat! Many core supporters and card carrying members of the Labour Party have banged their heads against walls as Labour shame-facedly used the language of the right. Many like myself at the time, repeatedly questioned why Labour were moving into enemy territory and acting like them.

Today, Liam Byrne signalled a change in Spin Doctor strategy by using the correct term for our pensions, benefits, etc as "Social Security". The security of knowing that if you are disabled, become disabled, become ill, become unemployed, become old, have to leave your job to become a carer, our proud state will step in to provide social security for a short while, while you get on your feet to find a job or for longer if your disability renders you incapable of working.

No apologies needed Labour. No need to look anxiously over your shoulder to ascertain who is in support of you or not. Loud and proud "The Labour Party believe in Social Security". Liam Byrne spent a good deal of time on his speech,quite rightfully,focussing on IDS' woeful high cost of delivering a range of reforms within the DWP. But Liam Byrne did not quite shout loud enough about the human cost of Mr Duncan-Smith's abysmal, abhorrent treatment of people.

Because people - workers, disabled, unemployed, carers, pensioners make up the Labour Party. Take the whole class system and throw it out of the window for a minute. The Labour Party are about people and have a proud history of standing up for human suffering. Mr Duncan-Smith and his henchmen at the DWP never speak of people and the human cost of their policies. They rattle off stats, mostly made up at whim to scaremonger about supposed rates of fraud within the system. The Labour Party know better. They have stories of the people on the frontline. Mr and Mrs Smith battling the Bedroom Tax, Ms Jones wondering how she will afford to even rent on a nurses salary, Mr Bloggs on 13k a year with 3 kids who cannot make his income stretch a month, Mr Watson borrowing from payday loan companies month after month just to survive. Mrs Shaw battling cancer and being told she is fit for work by ATOS.

Labour need to focus on these real life people who are suffering under the Governments "Welfare Reform". By all means highlight the human cost with a few figures, but highlight the real people suffering the most. Take your MPs out of Westminster and onto twitter for a day Ed M and see the real stories for yourselves.

Unite the Union have produced a teachers resource pack, to educate children about their rights as human beings to protest about things they feel are unfair, to know their rights in the workplace. An absolutely brilliant idea that needs trumpeting and celebrating not fearfully hiding in the corner in case the DM and Telegraph accuse Labour of being in league with the unions! Let's celebrate our union affiliations- the people who put money into the Labour Party from the sweat of their brow like nurses, policemen, teachers, binmen. Now's the time to say "Yes the Labour Party are proud to be affiliated to unions who represent the rights of working people. The right to stability in their work contracts, the right to know exactly how many hours they will work next week. The right to choose they do NOT want a zero hours contract. The right to a Living Wage."

Now Labour you have finally seen the sense in kicking Welfare out of Social Security, start standing up tall and speaking out loud and proud about the people you represent. You will be surprised just how many new voters you will secure and how many old Labour voters will come back into the fold.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Foodbank Rules - Are they fair?

I make no apologies, and that is where I and the Trussell Trust tend to part company somewhat, when  I say I have great difficulty as a humanitarian in dealing with their policy on Foodbank visits/parcels recieved.

The Trussell Trust  (TT) are a Christian based organisation. I too am a Christian -a Catholic by birth. The TT have a policy that when people are referred to a Foodbank by a voucher system, they supply 3 days worth of emergency food rations designed around the need - ie a family of 2 adults and 3 children will have different needs to a single person. But then they also state clients can have no more than 3 visits in any 6-12 month period (it varies on location I find). That is what I find uncomfortable.

There are always people who try and abuse systems, but these are in a tiny minority, just like the 0.5% DLA fraud, although IDS would have you believe it runs into millions of people abusing the system! But I find the "language of fear" is increasingly used as the TT try to push,in the media,the "stringent" checks made on vouchers so no one is able to abuse the system, to reassure the Mail readers their benevolent donations are not open to abuse.

This fear of abuse then lends itself to what I see frankly as a blaming policy of "3 visits and you're out" on food parcels. It is widely known that Job Centre sanctions for minor infringements like being 5 minutes late to sign on are being used to sanction people for weeks on end! I am sorry, but it is NOT humanitarian to allow 3x3 visits/parcels when the sanctions can go on for 2/3 months! It is NOT Christian to then turn your back on people in dire circumstances. The TT insist they do not want to encourage a dependency culture, but the Government by sanctioning benefits leave people with very little choice, but to be dependent on a Foodbank and local community help.

When I donate to my Foodbank, I am not then issuing policy on who and who not should benefit from it and for how long. There are working people who may need a parcel to get by every week for the next 3 years, whose income will not grow due to stagnant wages and zero hours contracts. They will need the Foodbanks continuous help not a measly 3 times!

How sapping of a poor persons energies and how fearful are they when they realise they have already recieved 3 parcels in 6 months and so are unable  to apply again? Sorry but I want them to be helped again and again until they are able to feed their families when benefit is reinstated or when their wages increase. I cannot turn my back after 3 visits. The Government via Cameron and IDS rejoice in this "Big Society" approach of communities feeding people. I know the coalition now rely on us and have turned their backs on the poor. But if we have to step into the huge void, we cannot then act like them by limiting need!

How is need measured? Where do people turn to after the 3 visits have been reached?  Crime and shoplifting in desperation? I make no apologies: I would rather they turn to their community foodbank and ask for further help. I don't want families and children to starve because I wasn't there the 4th time they needed me.

Friday, 16 August 2013

School Uniform - Without the Debt

I personally like school uniform. Many parents I know especially with bigger families like mine also like school uniform. The main reasons have nothing to do with education, pride, etc.

The first reason is cost of personal clothes for the school week if uniform were abolished. Take my 4 lads.  A few years back when I had all 4 in school would have amounted to 4 pairs of trainers (obviously fashionable ones so as to keep up with the trends and not be the odd one out in class) accompanied by an array of "personal taste" type clothes. For my eldest who went through a Goth and Punk phase, it would have been clothes from the specialist little shops in Liverpool where I remember spending £40 on a shirt for a birthday once. For my second son the "fashion pony" the latest styles and trends of whatever happens to be in Topman and River Island at the time. For my third sporty son, all the latest Adidas, Nike type sportswear and for my 4th quirky son a few shirts and quirky styles from Joe Browns.

The result: a huge bill for us their parents. You know kids, especially teenagers. New clothes and trends must be kept up with. I can only guess at the horrendous bill for girls and after the sad deaths recently of children being bullied on social media sites, I could forsee bullying on a large scale if children were picked on by not conforming to the latest styles. Those from low income families would find the playground a place to avoid at break times as their classmates assess who is wearing the "correct" trends and who is not.

The second reason is ease of knowing what each is wearing Monday to Friday. Those parents having to race out on the school run are quite happy knowing their child has one choice only. The school uniform! Imagine trying to get out of the house with a teenage daughter wondering what to wear that day!

So yes I am all for school uniform but I would like modifications. Far too many schools, like my sons have a school blazer with school crest embedded on, a school jumper again with the school logo and a school tie that has to be bought from a specialist store. Lets get to a base in state schools where we can buy generic school uniform. Plain coloured jumpers, blazers and ties with no logos and easily bought at any shop from Matalan, Asda, Tesco, M+S and co. Any state school and the new free schools and academies should now all be going to a generic uniform that can be easily bought, and thus avoid debt for the families on low incomes. I know when all 4 of my sons were in school,from primary up to secondary school, August came with basically a wallet/purse warning. I started buying shirts and bags in June before they even had the chance to break up from school! Larger families with 3+ kids can have bills of £250 per child once you include coats, bags, and stationery equipment. Lets try to soften that bill by having generic uniform.

Credit unions are also a great help in the month of uniform need as people can take out a small loan to cover some of the costs. But why not let's try to get this cost and burden down now by making our schools more aware about the burden of debt parents are getting into just to send their kids to school. Remember a lot of these parents are currently visiting Foodbanks to feed their families, so school uniforms are an added terror at this time of year. Many people in my local community are donating good second hand school uniform to the Foodbank, so it can go directly to those most in need of help
But let's start off by lobbying the Heads of Schools and getting an acknowledgement that educating our children shouldn't be resulting in debt for parents.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Treat the kids to a day out..not on a low income you won't!

Any family lucky enough to have had a week or two's holiday this year, or families taking days out  in the UK, will be looking around for the best deals. Everyone knows there are budget trips to the local park with a picnic, or an afternoon down by the river. But what I wanted to find out was how much does it cost to visit local "attractions" - the places where kids say all their friends have gone to so why can't they? I was very surprised and shocked by some of the "deals" on offer.

I live in N Wales, so what better place to start with than the Snowdonia train in Llanberis. For the prices I am taking 2 examples: My family of 2 adults and 2 teenagers aged 12+, and my friends family of 2 adults and 3 kids aged under 12. The heritage steam train is the train all the kids want to go on to the summit of Snowdon. For my family, my teenagers are classed as adults and so we will have to pay 4x £35 =£150. For my friends family of 2 adults and 3 children the cost is £145.Once you add on the cost of petrol to get to Llanberis, a lunch out of say burgers and chips and the odd ice cream you would be looking in the region of £200+ for this day out!

All the kids love Alton Towers. The best deals are to be had by booking online in advance apparently with 40% off the price of admission on the gate. My family are again treated as 4 adults so the admission price is £112 if booked online for a random mid week day in August. For my friend as she has children under 12 she is able to book a family ticket for 2 adults and 3 kids. This sets her back £118.75 but we are advised online this is a far better deal than simply turning up on the day as the costs would be 40% higher. Again add on the cost of petrol and a simple lunch and depending on how far you are travelling this again is a £200+ day out.

How about a day out in Blackpool and a trip to the Pleasure Beach? If you intend to spend quite a long time at the Pleasure a beach and with the prices on offer, you probably would, there are options. If like my teenagers who want to go on everything and be all inclusive, the price for 2 adults and 2 children is £146. My friends family of 5 is £182.50. There are other options of a £6 pass to visit the Pleasure Beach and enter the Chinese Maze but kids want to go on all the rides in general don't they? A "BIG VALUE" pass at £50 each allows 1 person to visit on the day of their choosing and return again for another visit within 14 days. But if you have travelled as a family, you will probably need the wristband option. Again add on a lunch , an ice cream and petrol and you can easily bump this up to £250 in my case and probably £300 for my friend.

So after viewing these top days out, it is obvious that many parents either working on low incomes or those receiving benefits could not afford even a day out to an attraction at these prices. Many of you reading this will no doubt be saying "Well there are parks, museums,rivers and local hills to climb etc" I agree cheap days out are there to be had if you think carefully and budget for a homemade picnic. But kids are kids. They hear their friends in the classroom boasting of holidays abroad or a trip to Alton Towers etc, which is way beyond their parents budget. It is a travesty that children with parents on low incomes will miss out on a summer holidays day trip during their childhoods, because these attractions are so vastly overpriced for what they are.

And the most precious thing of all - nothing to look back on when they are older, except for miserable summer holidays where mum and dad were concerned because the food budget was tighter than ever, due to the kids being at home.... Government have the power to lobby these attractions and work out a better deal for low income families. But while Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg enjoy a holiday abroad AND a holiday within the UK, they are not bothered about those children in low income families who will be experiencing boredom and lack of money for 6 weeks and in many cases a visit to the Foodbank as food runs out...

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Childcare for Disabled Children: The Ugly Truth Osborne won't Face.

I'm going to talk about it, because sadly no one else will. In amongst the criticisms of George Osborne's new Childcare Voucher scheme was not a single mention of how parents of Disabled children were expected to cope with the daily grind of looking after their child 24/7 and 365 days a year.

It is quite frankly SHAMEFUL Not unexpected given this Governments onslaught against disabled adults in the form of ATOS, but nonetheless shameful. The whole slant of both the TV news reports and newspapers were "What about stay-at-home mums?" The Mail actually  defended stay-at-home mums but in their context of  the better off who wanted to nurture their children. Nothing wrong in that as all parents should get a CHOICE of how they want to best care for their children.

But parents  of a disabled child get their choices taken away the minute they know their child has a disability. I have been in that position. After 3 boys, my 4th son is autistic. Other parents face the difficulties associated with children with physical disabilities. Your childcare choice is narrowed more than likely down to one option:

"I must stay at home and care for this child 24/7."

Anyone feeling able to go back to work then confronts the childcare on offer. Most ordinary working families cannot afford a nanny. So then it comes down to a childminder or a nursery. But Mr Osborne is increasing the ratio of children a childminder and nursery can have. That is certainly not going to work for a disabled child who may need 1-1 support. Lets take a look at the nursery options then. Nurseries often refuse disabled children who have very special needs. They simply do not have the staff either qualified or able to offer that support. When my son was 3  uears old,I was very very fortunate as I lived in Liverpool, and was offered a place at a nursery that specialised in caring for Disabled children. This is rare and places are like gold dust. As for specialist nurseries that cater for a wide range of disabilities - these simply do not exist in large swathes of the UK. I am sure a Labour Government would look to incorporate a disability nursery into Sure Start Centres.

If a parent can find a nursery or childminder who has the expertise to care for your child, the cost is then prohibitive. Here you can almost say disabled children are discriminated against. As the disabled child needs more or less 1-1 support so the fees incurred increase. If you are hoping to return to your 16 hour a week job in a supermarket forget it. It will take a full time wage to pay for childcare. The best you can hope for is a respite break for a few days a year from social services, but as cuts take place these respite breaks are becoming less infrequent.

And so to Osborne's childcare voucher - made available to 2 earner families some on a combined income of £300k. There is no mention of ANY help, let alone more detailed help for parents of Disabled children. Labour had made an excellent beginning with Sure Start Centres, many of whom were helping disabled children. These are now being shut by a Government whose own PM had experience of bringing up a disabled child!

So when we talk about childcare choices, let's start the dialogue to include ALL children. From that point let us assume that parents of disabled children need more help, more financial support to work if they want to and let's give parents of Disabled children the one thing they don't have now: Real Choice

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Childcare Vouchers for the Rich.. While "HardWorking Families" Suffer

Apologies for the title of this piece, but feel I really do need to use Cameron and the Tories mantra phrase "Hard Working Families". However I am using the phrase in its pure form. Hard Working Families like me and you.. Single parent families, Two couple families where only 1 is able to work, Families whose heads may be unemployed or on zero contract hours, families where the head of the family is looking after a disabled or elderly relative. All of them are "Hard Working". All of them are deserving of a better deal than what the Tories are currently dishing out.

Cameron needs sweeteners for his Middle Class Tory Voters. These are his "squeezed middle" feeling the pinch on the private school fees, not booking 2 foreign holidays this year, perhaps putting off the house redecoration if they are really pushed. Sorry to appear a bit sarcastic to the Middle Classes, but frankly they are not feeling the onslaught of Cameron's policies quite the same way as those who are disabled, those on 10-20k, or Carers looking after disabled relatives on their paltry £59 per week Carers Allowance. The sacrifice of the middle classes simply is NOT the sacrifice of those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

So here comes the Tories latest sweetener - to curb the edge of any possible revolt from traditional Tory Voters in the leafy suburbs and countryside. It comes in the form of a £1200 per child voucher towards childcare costs. BUT the caveat is that you only get this help in a family where 2 partners work. Yes both partners can earn £150k each and have a combined income of £300k and receive this help, yet if you are a single earner in a couple on £20k you get nothing, £0, zilch, nought.

There are catches as you would expect from the Tories. The scheme is open to those with children aged up to 5 only. There are plans to expand the age range but these are vague. The scheme is open only to those whose employers are part of the scheme.

The Tories have increased the amount of children per staff ratio in order to increase the affordability of childcare.. So they say. In reality the quality of childcare will suffer as staff will be pushed attending to their charges in increased ratios.

Childcare experts and leading charities have condemned the scheme. All say that low income, single earner families who need the most help are the very ones who will be missing out. Nothing new there as with all ConDem policies, the poor lose out significantly more than the rich.

Everyone knows that those low income families have already lost significant amounts of money through the loss of tax credits, especially where there are 2 children. tax Credits have also been lost in couples where one partner worked 16 hours. In order to be eligible for tax credits the Tories, in an era of unprecedented austerity increased these hours to 24 for entitlement to tax credits.

So while the couple - high fliers on their combined £300k - look forward to perhaps employing a nanny with their vouchers, single earners in a couple look forward to a continued struggle with childcare.

And nothing has been said yet again about either the scant provision of childcare for children with special needs or a financial help like the scheme above for parents desperate for help with their special needs child. These children and their families are the most ignored group by a Government whose own Prime Minister was supposed to have an in depth knowledge and sympathy due to his own life experience in caring for a disabled child. Yet again these parents are left to manage and struggle on their own when they are the ones in need of the most help.

But this Government are not labelled ConDem for nothing are they?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

DWP plans for "Residential Training" for Disabled and Unemployed- Work or Workfare?

Today among the usual twitter news stories was tucked away a July 2013 report from the DWP entitled "Residential Training Provision - Independent Advisory Panel Report"- link here


The report focusses on helping disabled and those unemployed people where all other help has failed previously, to attend a Residential College and do courses that will have a near positive outcome of getting each individual back into work.

Sounds a good idea? In theory it is! But then when reading through the report it is striking that there are no residential colleges available to attend in the North West, Wales and Scotland. So would the disabled and unemployed from these areas be shipped to colleges far from home? This was my first concern.Secondly I wanted to know who the target group actually is. Obviously the DWP cannot send every disabled person and long term unemployed person to a residential college so who are these people the DWP wants to target? The DWP state
  • The newly disabled
  • A significant change in the level or impact of their impairment within the past 3 years
  • A substantial gap in skills and experience needed for realistically available employment.

The DWP also say that those attending the colleges would need to demonstrate:
  • A commitment to achieving employment
  • A background level of skills and experience to achieve employment within 12 months
  • The ability to benefit extensively from the programme

So the DWP is willing to send disabled and unemployed to these residential colleges to do courses to enable them to find work? Sounds good to me. But surely the cost of implementing such a programme will be huge? Correct! This whole scheme could cost in the region of £18 million +. And then there are the "partnerships" needed to run the scheme. Who are these partners? After all we have already seen the partners like ATOS running medical assessments and seen what they have done and their level of skill! The DWP seem to want to work with a "range of current providers" including "employers, support agencies and others". Rather vague at present!

One of the main concerns doing the rounds on twitter is the point blank obvious. The DWP do not have a high degree of trust in the disabled community given their past record. Will there be an element of compulsion? Will there be sanctions if you do not wish to attend? The answer appears to be "No" for both those questions. However, given the unemployed are already subject to sanctions and compulsion, and the disabled found fit for work by ATOS are having benefits stopped or face sanctions, people simply do not trust the DWP to progress to a stage where an element of compulsion creeps in. All we can do is watch this space.. carefully.

As a mum of a teenage son with autism, my concern would be the progression to 16 whereby our children are classed as adults under the auspices of the DWP. I certainly would not want my 16 year old having to attend a compulsory placement at a residential college. Given we live in Wales and with none of these collees based in Wales or the NW, this could involve a big move away from home. Again I will watch to see what happens next.

One of the recommendations in the report is telling. Recommendation 12 says:

"DWP should encourage Residential Training Providers to align themselves with other employment provision such as Work Choice and the Work Programme..."

Work Programme. Not such a giant leap to Workfare. This is what makes me personally so wary of what the OUTCOME will be once the course is completed. is that all the disabled and unemployed can hope for perhaps? A compulsory shelf stacking 30 hour+ week on workfare in a supermarket taking home your £71 for 6+ months? I'd rather hope if the disabled and unemployed did these residential courses the outcome of it would be rather more than Workfare.

Read the 43 page report. Nothing in stone yet but colleges are all identified. My opinion is: IF and its a huge IF the DWP guarantee NO compulsion, NO sanctions for refusing and of course colleges in the NW, Wales and Scotland then these reisdential colleges could prove valuable to those able to work if disabled and to those unemployed who need more intensive help. Also if they are then able to move to jobs on a Living Wage then fine.

However we are talking of Iain Duncan Smith, Mark Hoban and Esther Mcvey whose track record in supporting the disabled is up there on the biggest list of whoppers ever told! Let's just say there are many of us looking at this "Residential Training" with interest.